Republican Greg Gianforte won Thursday’s special election for the U.S. House in Montana, defeating Democratic challenger Rob Quist despite being charged with misdemeanor assault the day before.
Gianforte will now take over former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke’s House seat. Zinke vacated the seat when he accepted the post of Secretary of the Interior in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
The election results — with Gianforte winning over 50% of the vote and leading by a seven-point margin — were a major blow to Democrats’ anti-Trump efforts, and to the media’s expectations, after Gianforte had allegedly “body-slammed” a reporter before his final campaign event on Wednesday.
Montanans are “sending a wake-up call to the Washington D.C. establishment,” Gianforte told a jubilant crowd outside his campaign headquarters, after multiple outlets called the race.
Democrats had hoped to turn the race into an early referendum on President Trump’s performance in the White House and the GOP’s health care bill, which passed the House and is now being considered in the Senate.
But despite national attention and considerable outside funding, as well as Trump’s recent controversies in Washington D.C., Democrats were unable to turn the anti-Trump “resistance” into a concrete victory at the ballot box — a bad sign for Democratic chances in the 2018 midterms.
Democrats had also been handed the gift of a last-minute controversy when the UK Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was allegedly assaulted by Gianforte. Jacobs said the entrepreneur had “body-slammed” him in response to questions about the Congressional Budget Office score of the GOP health care plan.
Fox News’ Alicia Acuna also supported Jacob’s account saying Gianforte grabbed Jacobs “by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”
An audio recording released by the Guardian showed Jacobs asking Gianforte a question, before a loud crashing noise was heard, followed by Jacobs saying Gianforte had attacked him and broken his glasses.
Gianforte’s campaign pushed back against Jacobs’s claims, saying that the reporter entered the office without permission and “aggressively shoved” a recorder in the candidate’s face. An official campaign statement said Jacobs had been asked to leave and to lower the recorder (neither of which was heard on the recording).
Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault and appeared to go dark Thursday, canceling interviews with both Fox News and NBC’s Meet the Press.
At least three newspapers, the Helena Independent Record, the Missoulian, and the Billings Gazette, pulled their endorsements of Gianforte, while Democrats seized on the alleged assault, with both MoveOn.org and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launching ads that played audio of the incident.
Democrats were also hoping that Trump’s time in the White House would motivate their base in the election, and would give them a win that would point toward a big victory in the 2018 midterms, in the same way President Barack Obama motivated the Republican base in the 2010 midterms.
Despite all those factors in Democrats’ favor, it seemed that Gianforte’s win was a comfortable one. When The Associated Press called the race, Gianforte was leading Quist by approximately seven points.
In his victory speech, Gianforte appeared humbled by the recent controversy, and apologized to Jacobs for the incident that had at one point appeared to doom his campaign.
“Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back,” he said. “I should have not responded in the way that I did. And for that I am sorry.”
— ABC News (@ABC) May 26, 2017
Adam Shaw is a politics reporter for Breitbart News based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY